At its core, N.K. Jemisin‘s The Fifth Season is an examination of revenge, of how we seek it and why. It’s also an allegory of marginalization in general, and of U.S. racism in particular. Most importantly, it’s a damn fine novel.
The story begins with Essun, who returns home to find that her husband, Jija, has bludgeoned their toddler son to death and has absconded with their pre-teen daughter. There’s no real mystery as to why this has happened; Essun and her children are orogenes: people with the ability to control seismic activity by harnessing kinetic and thermal energies. Jija discovered that his son was one of them, killed him, and has made off with their daughter to Earth-knows-where.
Orogenes — derogatively referred to as “roggas” — are feared in the Stillness, where seismic disruptions occur naturally and often. According to widespread belief, they aren’t even human, but are monsters created by the Evil Earth. However, orogeny is necessary to control everyday life in the Stillness — which includes continental shifts, microquakes, demolition projects, etc. — and to prevent the cataclysmic horrors that occasionally strike the continent. Known as Fifth Seasons, these begin when a seismic event causes damage to a large swathe of the Stillness, resulting in destruction, plague, famine, and meteorological disruptions. As Essun sets out to find Jija and avenge their son’s death, a Season of unprecedented proportions has just begun.
But Essun’s is not the only story told in The Fifth Season. Jemisin’s novel shifts its focus to two other orogenes: Damaya and Syenite. After a burst of orogeny in the schoolyard outs her, Damaya is forced to live in her family’s barn, and later finds herself handed over to a Guardian for formal orogenic training at the Fulcrum. Syenite is a Fulcrum resident who is assigned to produce a child with Alabaster, the Fulcrum’s highest-ranking orogene, and who must accompany him on his travels until they have procreated successfully.
Set against the backdrop of a world on the verge of breaking apart, The Fifth Season is a must-read for any fan of fiction. Whether you read genre or prize-winners, you’ll find a lot to love in the first part of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
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Image credit: John Towner